I like to wander off the spooky beaten path every once in a while, so here’s a trip into the other love of my life: Japanese food!
Every winter I start craving Japanese food. Karaage, Ramen, Japanese curry, and Pocky become staples in my diet.
United Noodles is my favorite Asian market in Minnesota. They have a wide selection of foods from packaged snacks to fresh market produce. They don’t cater to just one Asian region and have items from all over, like the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, ect. However One of my favorite snacks from Japan is called Pocky.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with this popular Asian treat, it is a chocolate-coated biscuit stick and it comes in many different flavors.
Common flavors include chocolate, strawberry, mint, and banana. More unique flavors are available that include green tea, peanut, almond crusted, and limited edition whiskey! It’s become so popular in America that you can find the common flavors in most grocery stores.
I found these special Lovely Halloween packs at United Noodles this year.
Inside the package there is a box containing nine individual packs, with three unique designs in all. I thought they were adorable so I’m keeping mine to laminate one day and use them as bookmarks. The box they were nestled in has a cut-out Jack O’ Lantern on the bottom!
There is also a small restaurant inside of the grocery store called the Uni-Deli that sells Japanese street foods like Dango, Taiyaki, Char siu pork, and Gochujang fried chicken! However they are best known for their house-made Ramen.
If you’ve never had Dango and you enjoy the flavor of burnt marshmallows- I highly recommend them.
If you’re ever in Minnesota and you enjoy Japanese food then check out a restaurant called Obento-Ya.
The space is modern and rather small but you won’t be disappointed. Their Tsukune Donburi is my favorite thing on the menu (pictured above).
They also serve house-made Ramen and varied kinds of bento box lunches. Bento boxes are just like American lunch boxes in that hold food for working class adults and school children, except in Japan they can be really elaborate and beautiful!
However my favorite Japanese restaurant in the state has to be Zen Box Izakaya, where they serve hands down the best Japanese fried chicken (Karaage) in town.
I’ve been known to order just a few rounds of these even though they’re technically an appetizer. Paired with Napa cabbage, lemon slices, and a tangy dipping sauce, I could munch on these for days. They do offer it as an entree with curried potatoes and carrots if you’re looking for something more substantial. Just ask for the Chicken Karaage Curry!
Other goodies from this restaurant include Imo Itame (stir fry sweet potato and onion), Teriyaki Donburi, and every weekend they have a brand new house-made Ramen recipe to try out. I’ve been told that they sell out fast!
I highly recommend this place not only for the food but also for the atmosphere which is inviting and cozy. I am always met with “Irasshaimase!” a Japanese greeting (it means “Welcome!”) by the servers at the door and I have just as much fun sitting at the bar as I do in their dining section. Which is not an easy thing to do for me since I dislike bars a lot.
How can I feel uncomfortable staring at the figurine faces of some of my favorite Anime characters though? Trick question, I can’t!
I also like to cook my own Japanese food at home whenever possible. Easy dishes I recommend are Japanese Curry (pictured above) with pot stickers, Teriyaki chicken, Gyudon, and Hambagu Steak (Think Salisbury steak but with Asian flavors).
**On each of the dishes I just described, I linked to either a recipe or a product that I love to use in my recipes. For instance I don’t make homemade pot stickers so I linked a product that I really enjoy. For the curry I linked my favorite and the world’s easiest curry sauce mix!
Other wonderful Japanese restaurants that I recommend if you visit Minnesota:
Specializing in small plates and appetizers, this restaurant has some wonderful entrees too. I highly recommend the Tsukune Donburi. The rice bowl has a toasted earthy flavor filled with king mushrooms and green onions. If you’re on a tight budget or want to eat small, I recommend ordering their skewers. The grilled shishito peppers are great! The gyuhire (limousine steak) while more expensive is also crazy good.
Since I have a deadly seafood allergy, house-made ramen can be hard to come by with broths that don’t contain dashi (fish stock). Thankfully this place has Shio Chicken Ramen, which I order regularly at Moto-I. My fiancee loves their Okonomiyaki. Bonus- This restaurant is also a sake brewery and they brew all of their own sake onsite! If you’re not into Sake, I recommend the Herkimer Rice Lager.
I want to highlight the precautions you should take when ordering foreign foods.
Be mindful and know what you’re consuming. My allergy is not minor and has landed me in the hospital more than once for my love of Asian cuisine.
At the UniDeli in United Noodles I had to return a bowl of house-made Ramen when one of the cooks casually mentioned that they had recently changed the recipe for their poached eggs. Even though I had eaten there several times before, they were now soaking them in dashi (fish stock) overnight to give them a more ‘Japanese flavor’. I was unaware of the tainted food and if the chef had not mentioned it then there could have been severe consequences. So now I always ask even if I’ve been there many times before.
Don’t let your food allergens or sensitivities keep you from trying this amazing cuisine though. Most places are more than able to accommodate. Explore more, eat more!
What are some of your favorite Japanese restaurants and dishes where you live?